You’ll recall that in August the California Department of Managed Health Care issued a mandate requiring all insurance issuers to immediately add surgical and RU-486 abortion coverage to their plans, even those for nonprofit religious institutions and churches.
This was a violation of the decade-old Weldon Amendment, one of several pro-life riders included in appropriations bills every year. The Weldon Amendment blocks government agencies receiving federal funds from discriminating against any health care entity for not covering abortions.
The only recourse for victims seeking protection under the Weldon Amendment is to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services.
But to date HHS has taken no action, and the violation is ongoing.
Because the Obama administration has failed to enforce the Weldon amendment, pro-life leaders have pressed to enact the Abortion NonDiscrimination Act, which would make the Weldon amendment permanent and offer judicial recourse for victims impacted by the violation.
Pro-lifers in Congress tried to insert ANDA into the Continuing Resolution Omnibus appropriations bill, i.e., CROmnibus, which will fund the government through September 2015 (except DHS, which is only funded until March, so the GOP can revisit Obama’s immigration executive order after the new legislative session begins, at which point Republicans will control both houses).
But with many Republicans opposing CROmnibus for other reasons, it needs Democrat votes to pass and must also pass the Democrat-run Senate.
Since both parties are loathe to risk shutting down the government over the budget, pro-lifers behind the scenes were instead able to squeeze verbiage into the Explanatory Statement noting the complaints and directing the HHS Secretary to take action.
This is a step toward obtaining relief for the victims of the California mandate and warning other states considering similar action (like Washington) Congress takes the Weldon Amendment seriously. It reads:
Healthcare Provider Complaints. Legislation appropriating funding for the Department of Health and Human Services has carried a general provision relating to health care providers since fiscal year 2005 (Division H, Section 507(d) of Public Law 113-76). Complaints regarding reported violations of these provisions have been filed with the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. The Secretary is directed to respond to these complaints expeditiously in accordance with final rule 45 CFR Part 88 published in Federal Register Vol. 76 No. 36.
What this does is put the HHS Secretary (and other states that might want to follow California’s lead) on notice that Weldon is a law that Congress – including the Appropriators – take very seriously.
HHS now has a little time to actually enforce Weldon, but the next appropriations cycle starts in a few months, and this language shows that Congress is not going to let California’s action’s slide.
A source on the Hill noted in an email, “A LOT of work went into pulling this off, and I was actually impressed that they got the report language in.” Again, Democrats as well as Republicans had to agree to this language before it was inserted.
Pro-lifers were also able to add an Explanatory Statement noting the shroud of secrecy surrounding Obamacare-approved insurance plans that cover abortions and directing the HHS Secretary to provide transparency.
The explanatory statement agreed to by both Republicans and Democrats calls for transparency BEFORE enrollment… huge.
It’s not just that pro-lifers care only about transparency, the explanatory statement gives them opportunities to address the issue of abortion coverage under Obamacare. This is no fix for sure, but it’s a move in the right direction.
Additional information on CROmnibus for pro-life budget wonks:
- Funding for the UNFPA remains the same as FY14: $35 million
- Funding for International Family Planning/Population Control Activities remains the same as FY14: not less than $575 million
- Title X Family Planning Program remains the same as FY14: $286 million
[Top photo via Getty‘; bottom photo via Salon]